Darkroom is an incredible rollercoaster journey of such power and intensity that it leaves you breathless. Classically it could be described as a psychological thriller, but this does not do justice to the multi-layered, complex plot that Poppet has so expertly woven. At first it appears a simple tale of good versus evil, the good being the young, carefree and spirited young woman, Shauna, and the evil, depraved, sociopath, Victor or Vengeance.
It opens with Shauna captive to the wicked Vengeance, who it appears is on a mission from God to cleanse this 'dirty angel'. The wearing of jeans is deemed a sin worthy of the most cruel and graphic violence and sexual manipulation. On her release, Shauna is shunned by all her nearest and dearest, and put down as delusional. She runs away to South Africa and soon continues her carefree lifestyle of before, only to once again suffer at the hands of Vengeance. A one-night stand is blown up outside her apartment; another supposedly commits suicide, leading to her best friend cutting her out of her life. Every aspect of her life is coloured by the hand of Vengeance, who justifies his actions as the duty from a higher authority.
When it appears Shauna can suffer no more, we are introduced to her neighbour, Victor, and at times the narrative dips into romance, but it is always laced with a good dose of horror. Of course Victor is really Vengeance and continues to manipulate every area of her life, using his Darkroom to monitor her every move. When she steps out of line, he again dons the attire of Vengeance and subjects her to such a violent abusive attack, that she comes close to death. What the author does so expertly is switch the POV and put you right in the mind of the protagonists. I found myself almost pantomime-like shouting out 'NO!' at times as we are privy to the most intimate thoughts of Shauna and Victor / Vengeance. Upon realising the severity of his attack on Shauna, I thought briefly Victor was going to change, see the error of his ways and realise he really loved her. I am sure that this was the intention of the author, before throwing you completely off with wicked twist after wicked twist.
Towards the end of the novel, you do find out more about Victor / Vengeance and this is where the constant quotations from the bible resonate most. We find out very early on that he is an avenging angel, a Jesus-like chosen one, with an omniscient Father, but it is when his disciples appear (Peter and Seth being two) that a lot of the pieces suddenly slot into place. Not since the epic Moby Dick with Captain Ahab's biblical tussle, has a novel used references to the bible so powerfully. I actually found myself digging out a copy and researching the phrases used.
As earlier reviews have warned, Darkroom is in places not an easy book to read - the violence is unwavering and the imagery is incredibly dark. But you must, you absolutely must, because it is an exhilarating ride and the pages turn effortlessly. I found myself thinking I had worked out the ending, only to be thrown off course by an ingenious twist or turn, which makes you read on. Thought provoking is not even close to what Darkroom is. It is as close to an 'unputdownable' book as I have read!
When I did the reach the end, I found myself out of breath. The adrenaline was truly flowing, I had become so engaged and involved with the characters. At times I actually rooted for Victor, as the lines between good and evil became blurred, but deep down I knew what he had done and it repulses and shocks in equal measure. The culmination of the novel leaves one last, truly wicked twist with the publication of two alternative endings. I read and enjoyed both, although without giving it all away, I chose the first. Maybe it's the romantic in me, maybe it's the belief in redemption, maybe it was simply the fact that I had lived out a couple of intense days with these remarkable characters and come to love them. Lots of maybes, but the one thing that is far from a maybe is that Poppet has crafted an incredible book, one that should be read by all. I recommend this book most highly.
My old buddy, Jake Barton, another authonomy Gold Star Winner, is currently setting the Kindle world alight with his explosive thriller Burn, Baby Burn. Now rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lee Child and Alan Guthrie in the top 20 of all paid for kindles, Jake is living proof that authonomists can make it.
Here is what he said about Black Shadows...
Black Shadows is Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy reinvented for the 21st century. There’s a real authenticity about the period; the setting – New York in the 1940s - the characters – all coming together in a detective story that really hits the heights.
From the dramatic opening onwards, the reader is hooked. It’s a proven formula: a wisecracking detective, exotic female characters and shady gangsters, but here everything works so well. The sense of pace is perfectly judged, the short, snappy sentences adding to the excitement. Simon Swift is a clever, inventive writer with the ability to take the detective story to new heights.
The acknowledged masters of the genre: Chandler, Hammett and their ilk are long gone. Make way for a new star in their firmament, Simon Swift, and his exceptional novel, Black Shadows.
Black Shadows has been signed to UK based publisher, Wild Wolf Publishing.
Wild Wolf Publishing specialise in dark, brutal and edgy fiction. If it falls between the cracks of civilised life ... we start salivating.
I will join the ranks of Author Poppet, Jo Reed, Andy Kirby and Karl Vadaszffy on the Wild Wolf books. A very exciting time. At the moment we are looking at a May launch. I will be sure to keep you posted!